Interview with Penelope Hope Founder Nadia
How did you get to where you are today?
With the support of my family I decided it was time to take the plunge and set up my own business doing what I love. It has taken a lot of hard work, late nights and constant learning to get to where I am now but I'm very excited about the future and where Penelope Hope is heading.
Growing up I was artistic and creative but also dyslexic, so found some subjects at school quite challenging. My mum helped nurture my creativity, being an arts and textiles teacher herself. In fact, it was my Mum who bought me my first sewing machine when I went off to Art College and years later; it was the same machine I used to bring to life the first Penelope Hope prototype cushions.
Did you attend a design college?
After A-Levels I completed an Art Foundation Course and specialised in Fashion Design. I was going to continue and do a degree in Fashion Design but took a change of direction and enrolled to do a four year BA (HONS) Retail Management Degree instead. This was a great course as it covered so much of the business side of retailing and running a company. The third year involved working within the retail industry- I luckily got an amazing job in the Lingerie Design Department of Marks & Spencer Head Office. I got to design a silk nightwear collection that got made and sold in stores across the country- and I was only 21! This certainly fuelled my desire to work in design.
I went back to University to finish off my degree and came away with a First Class Honours. I then worked for Marks & Spencers in Buying & Merchandising and then moved on to work for Specsavers in Retail Marketing. I took a career break at this point to have my three children and started dreaming up my business plans.
I have subsequently studied Textile Print Design at Central St Martins, attended re-upholstery classes and completed many online design related courses to further my knowledge and skill.
Did you always see yourself becoming a designer?
I always dreamt of doing something really creative and running my own business. I used to make clothes and corsets in my teens and twenties and thought I might set up my own fashion label but then once I got married and we bought our own home, I started making blinds, curtains and cushion covers and loved looking through interior magazines. It was then I realised I was more interested in the Interior Industry than Fashion and felt there was a gap in the market for a bold and bright fabric and luxury cushion brand.
Who, where & what inspires you?
Guernsey; the flora, fauna, beaches & sea give me a huge amount of inspiration but I also have a bit of a bug for travelling. Before we started our family, my husband and I spent a year travelling around the world and went to some amazing places that are etched in my memory. A lot of the designs from the debut collections were inspired by my travels.
I am also a big fan of colour, the brighter and more vibrant the better! Therefore a few of my favourite designers are Tricia Guild, Jonathan Adler and Kate Spade. My favourite art movement is probably a mixture of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. My art heroes are David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Gustav Klimt- for his love of gold!
How do you keep your ideas fresh?
I've been full of ideas, designs and dreams as I've travelled and absorbed inspiration along the way. I enjoy the process of researching; whether it is trends, colours, innovations and styles from the past, present or future. However, I try to trust my instincts as to whether a design, trend or colour is going to fit in with the Penelope Hope style and most importantly whether my customers will love it as much as I do.
Tell us about your process?
I start with a theme in mind or a trend. I actively research trends - whether they are in the fashion, interiors, popular culture or youth markets and see which ones I feel suit the Penelope Hope style and would appeal to our customers.
I normally start with a Pinterest board and then build my own mood board in Photoshop and also a physical one in my studio. I had these giant magnetic framed notice boards made up so that I could collate my ideas for the collections and designs. It helps the process to see what is working well together and I can put colour swatches and test fabric swatches on it too.
I always tend to design more than I can fit into a collection. I find it hard being brutal as I tend to feel quite passionate about most of my designs but I have a few trusty friends and my sister, who is an interior designer, to ask their opinions and to help whittle it down.
The prints in each collection have to work well together, with a colour palette that gives some range but enough options to co-ordinate cushions and fabrics within the same collection. I also like to offer a variety within the cushions, such as some have a piped seam, others a knife edge seam, some have a contrasting reverse print and others have the same print on both sides. As of yet, you won’t find any cushions in the range, with a plain back! The feedback we’ve had on this little extra touch from customers has been great.
Which is your favourite pattern and is it inspired by anything in particular?
I am very fond of the Plunge Collection with the two fabric repeats- Plunge Fragment and Splash Fragment. I love blues and I love the sea- and this collection was inspired by Guernsey and how the rough coastal waters crash over our sea walls. I painted two abstract acrylic ink pieces of art and these were used in the cushion collection and to make the fabric repeat prints.
I also love metallics so have to say the Oresome Collection is very much a favourite of mine (and anyone that knows me well will know I also say ‘awesome’ a lot!) My favourite print in this collection is the Taha’a in gold on white cotton, inspired from some stunning tiles I discovered whilst on my honeymoon, so very personal to me. I used this fabric to recover my office chair and every time I go to sit down it brightens my day!
How do you mange business and family life?
Admittedly it’s a huge juggling act! I have three children at infant school. I drop them to school, head to my studio and then pick them up again at 3pm and I’m back on Mummy duty until bedtime. I don’t begrudge the long hours (and late nights) I spend working on Penelope Hope as it’s my passion and I’ve been desperate to put my energy into something I truly believe in and love doing.
My kids mean the world to me, they have brought so much laughter and purpose into my life and I’m pleased that now they can see me in another light than just the Mummy who cooks them tea and cuddles them when they hurt themselves but also the Mummy who designs the most awesome colourful cuddliest cushions! (wink)
Do you have any tips for new designers starting out?
I would say to any new designers to trust your instincts and to just go for it. A lot of well meaning people will discourage you or try to put you off but if you’ve got the fire in your belly and ready to put some hard work in then just go for it. You won’t look back! See a video interview on my about page with advice for anyone thinking of starting his or her own business.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I try not to look backwards to be honest. I prefer to learn from past experiences to help me make better decisions in the future. I do sometimes wish I had set up my business before having children. However, if I'd done that I wouldn't have had some of the career experiences I've had which has made me who I am today.
What does a typical working day involve for you?
I drop my children off to school then head to my studio. I normally have my breakfast at my desk as I check my emails then get stuck into either designing, painting, researching ideas for next season, sending out orders, looking for new suppliers and stockists as well as working on press releases, shooting or editing product photos.
No two days are the same and I have to split my time across all aspects of the business. At 3pm I run (sprint!) up the road to pick up my kids from school and then I'm on mummy duty until they are tucked up in bed and then more often than not I'm back on my Macbook Pro cracking on with more work, edits or research. If I give myself the night off you’ll find me watching Suits, Homelands or Scandal with my hubby and tucking into some Cadbury’s Turkish Delight!
Where are you based and why?
Penelope Hope is based in the beautiful island of Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. I am a local girl and very loyal to my island. It is a great place to bring up a family, with a low crime rate, excellent schools and some of the best beaches in the world! I get a lot of inspiration for my designs from right in front of me.
We have recently (May 2017) move to a new larger studio in The Trinity Square Centre in St Peter Port. A short walk from the centre of the town. It is the perfect place for a creative studio; high ceilings, lots of large windows giving us natural light, ideal for taking product photography and designing. Plenty of space for our expanding stock ranges and to showcase the Penelope Hope fabrics and products. If you're ever in the area drop in and say hi!